MIDLOTHIAN — Hidden far from the beaten path, down at the end of a partially paved road sits a metal building with four commercial spaces with plate-glass doors.
There isn’t any signage, so it requires a keen eye to recognize that the next to the last door is Mac’s Barber Shop. But most of Mac’s customers have been coming for so long, they don’t need a sign to find him. On Saturdays you can find customers lined up out the door.
It is an uncharacteristically warm day for late November, but the wind is gusting, signaling a change is coming. For 77-year-old Harold McMahan, it will be more than a change in the weather.
Taped to the door, below the opening rail, is a piece of paper that says the shop is closing and the last day of business is Saturday, only two days away.
“Mac is a fixture in this town. He’s really one of the old-time barbers,” said mayor pro tem Joe Frizzell. “He’s a really good man.”
This is Mac’s third location in the town of Midlothian. For more than 28 years, the shop was located on the business highway that runs through the small town. He next moved to the west of town on Farm-to-Market 663 for three years before his current site east of town, where he is nestled in an industrial area.
Mac is an Air Force veteran of the Korean War. After serving, he said he wanted to go back to Oklahoma but had no college and no place to live and no job.
He had found employment in plastics manufacturing when a co-worker told him he was going to barber school and asked if Mac wanted to go with him. Mac said he thought his VA eligibility had stopped but after checking learned he still had 36 months, so the two men went to barber school in Oak Cliff together. Mac earned his license and worked at the barber school as an instructor for four years before opening his shop in Midlothian.
A strong supporter of the military, he said he always had a lot of military photos on the walls of the shop.
“When I was out on the highway I had a little boy about 5, 6 or 7 who wanted to come in and look at my pictures. He would ask about the types of planes in the photos,” he said. “I told him that was a plane that kept us from being Japanese or German.”
Time has passed – and he’s seen a lot of changes since moving in 1957 to the once tiny community, which numbered 1,521 people at that time. He has seen longtime friends and customers pass on and the young kids grow up and move away. And for Mac, the years have passed in the company of his loyal patrons who are more than customers – they are beloved friends.
“I’ve enjoyed Midlothian. It’s a good town,” he says.
On the door, a notice handwritten in black marker reads: Nov. 27 will be the last day of Mac’s Barber Shop. I am retiring from barbering. Thanks to all my present and past customers. – Mac
“This chair is 50 years old and I’d like to have a nickel for every butt that’s sat in it,” he said. “I have pretty loyal customers. All my old customers are dead. I drive by the cemetery and see them every morning.”
“He ain’t that good,” quipped Bobby Foster, a tall thin man in a ball cap and red shirt who has been a customer since 1972, who brought his grandson Atticus for his first haircut. Mac responded with a sly smile, “Just stick around and see what he looks like when I’m done.”
With a little prompting, Atticus hands Mac a one-dollar bill, on which is written “Thanks Mr. Mac for my first haircut – Atticus.”
Mac points across the room, now bare of the pictures that adorned the walls for so many years.
“This guy,” he said, pointing to young Jonathan Johns. “I gave him his first barbershop shave at the age of 4. He was going to Paris, France, and needed to look sharp.”
Jonathan, now 8 years old, is back this morning for a haircut but no shave. In fact, his father John Johns is in the shop with both of his sons, Jonathan and Jonas. They wait patiently, enjoying the conversation, for their turn in the chair.
“This is a family tradition,” the elder Johns said.
Mac works quickly and deliberately, soaking up more of the conversation than he contributes to.
When asked how he gets the kids to sit so still in his chair, he says, “I threaten them. I say I will tell their Mom on them,” as he winks at Jonas.
“These kids are my prize, the rest of them are old,” he said.
One customer comments that they all have to keep coming back because he’s the only barber in town and that could make him the worst or the best. Laughter erupts again.
Reminiscing back to his own first hair cut experience, Mac said he wanted to go to the movies to see the Lone Ranger but his dad said he had to get a haircut first and he didn’t want a haircut. The kid in the chair before him threw a fit and didn’t have to get a cut. Mac thought that looked like a pretty good solution to get his way, so he got in the chair and threw a fit as well.
“My dad and his dad were different people,” he said, saying his dad insisted they take a walk. “So Dad and every other person in Oklahoma saw me get a whoopin’. Not a whipping – a whoopin’.”
But it seems he didn’t learn from the encounter with his father’s hand and when he crawled back up in the chair, he again threw a fit. His father instructed the barber to stop so they could take another “trip.” Considering his options, he decided the cut would be less painful and gave in.
“So I got my cut and had to sit in the car and missed the Lone Ranger,” he said.
The chatter in the shop picks up as everyone chimes in with something to add. There is bantering between Mac and a customer about just how many years Mac has been a barber. The gentleman says 47 years but Mac assures him it is 37.
“Tom is from Oklahoma too and we have a hard time addin’,” Mac said.
Mac tells of a man he once knew who never said no to anybody or disagreed. For that man, he said, every day was always a beautiful day even though it might be pouring down rain.
“That’s what I do, I try to get along with everybody,” Mac said. “I don’t remember bad things. The only bad thing was when I had to leave the location on the highway – and I still don’t understand that.”
Kenneth Atkins Sr., a fellow Korean War veteran and longtime customer and friend, said he’s only had three haircuts in his life that he didn’t get from Mac, who had even cut Atkins’ mother’s hair a few times.
Mac said she was a tougher customer and wasn’t happy if she didn’t get her bubblegum after the hair cut.
“She’d say, ‘Is the barber business so bad you can’t afford bubblegum anymore?’ ” he said.
Mac works on, occasionally wiping his brow in the crowded room that measures about 8 by 15 feet. He asks a departing customer to crank up the air-conditioning.
“I’m working up a sweat and it takes the curl out of my hair,” he said with a twinkle in his eye.
One gentleman comments there will be no more good flat tops in Ellis County after Saturday. Mac smiles and says nowadays he only has about four customers who want flat tops anyway.
“If I was a lawyer, I’d sue everybody that shaves their head. That’s cuttin’ into my business,” he said.
It hasn’t always been a one-chair shop. There were a couple of other barbers who worked with Mac over the years – Eddie Lafole and Ralph Taylor. He said he hasn’t heard from them since they left.
“They may have passed away,” he said. “We were all from the same breed and liked to do the unusual – anything no one else would do.”
He said once his shop served as Republican headquarters and there was every type of politician that came through.
“A guy called the chamber and asked if there was a barbershop in Midlothian. The chamber man said yes there is one with two barbers, one called Fast Eddie and the other is Mac the Knife. The caller asked if it was a barbershop or bookie joint,” he said with another smile.
Mac and his wife Nelda, who’s from Midlothian, celebrate 57 years of marriage in November. About his retiring, she said he should do whatever he wants to do.
The hardest part about retiring and closing the shop will be missing the people he spends time with every day.
“I tell the gospel truth all the time,” he said, as the now standing room only crowd in the tiny shop breaks out in laughter. “Saturday will be my last day and I don’t know what will happen next week.”
Mac said he would come in on his last day and work from 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. before locking the shop for good. He said he’ll still keep up with the people around town because he just a “naturally nosy person.” He can’t guarantee he won’t forget he’s retired and get up early and come down to the shop like every other day.
“I’ve met a lot of wonderful people. I’ve never met anyone I couldn’t get along with even though I might not agree with them,” Mac said. “I’ve met some beautiful people in this business.”
The sands of Del Mar
He is young but confident as they engage in combat on this mound of foreign soil defending his homeland and making the world a safer place.
But this isn’t just any man, this is John Wayne. And when the director yells “cut” he will step off the set located at Camp Del Mar, Calif., where a portion of “The Sands of Iwo Jima” was filmed in 1949. That set, on which was filmed the first big battle scene of the movie, was built by U.S. Marines stationed at the camp. William Hoyle of Waxahachie was one of those Marines.
“I worked on the set. And the set was for the Tarawa portion (of the movie),” Hoyle said. “This was Oceanside, Calif. It was Republic Studios and they got this guy John Wayne and they got Forrest Tucker.”
Fast forwarding through the DVD, Hoyle points out details from the background in the scene.
“This is a little lagoon by Camp Del Mar near the beach. I was working with the special effects people to set them up. We built that mound and set those palm trees,” he said. “Those are not really palm trees. They are poles with palms on them. And we made this bunker. That’s John Wayne. The special effects people put the building in there, but we built the mound and we put in the trees. We even built the wall.”
He rewinds the movie briefly and continues his story.
“He (Wayne) died of lung cancer. He always had a cigarette going. They had a guy on the set that was paid to keep the cigarette lit for him, so when after the scene he would come back and pick up his cigarette,” he said.
Moving across the room, he reaches for pages from a photo album. He said creating the set was their assignment and their responsibility.
Hoyle shows his service document from the Korean Campaign and the Cold War and then proudly exhibits a framed photo of what he calls “the baby:” a photo of himself “fresh out of boot camp.”
He served in the Marines for two enlistments, from 1947-1954. He was in Korea from November 1950 to October 1951 as a combat engineer.
“The most significant thing about this picture, ‘The Sands of Iwo Jima,’ was it saved the Marine Corps. After downsizing after WWII, they were thinking of doing away with the Marine Corps. Like there are Special Forces in the Army now, they were thinking of disbanding and making a special service group,” he said. “So when John Wayne made this picture in 1950, then when the Korean Campaign came up, it really saved the Marine Corps because they were about ready to economically chop it off.”
He said even the Coast Guard received more funding than the Marines did.
“In Korea we were using World War II stuff and eating World War II rations out of old warehouses. That was a forgotten war,” he said. “Basically we did our job. We stopped Communism.”
Drifting back to 1949 and the making of the film, Hoyle shares black and white photos of the actors and crew and soldiers who built the Tarawa set. He said the entire movie was filmed in California on location and in the studio as he points out John Agar and Forrest Tucker in a photograph.
“This is Richard Webb, not Jack Webb from Dragnet. These are the enemy. We only had about six Japanese guys that were playing the enemy. They were Americans and they were actors, of course. But we only had six of them because it was on Tarawa,” Hoyle said. “Iwo Jima is a different island and I didn’t get in on that one, it was up by San Clemente.”
Their participation in the movie was an assignment and as service people they did what they were asked to do. He said the project took about a month and half. They were on the set during the filming so they could handle any necessary resets between takes.
“They (the actors) all seemed pretty congenial. We ate lunch with them and the studio had two beach parties for us guys,” he said. “We weren’t in the movie, it was just another assignment and we found out later that was what helped save the Marine Corps.”
They were busy and didn’t have a lot of free time, but there was time for a few words and to snag a few quick snapshots with Wayne and several other actors. Reminiscing through the album, Hoyle comments at a photo of himself, “Look at all that hair.”
He pulls out a picture with himself, Wayne and another Marine.
“This guy’s name is Joe Payson. He’s got big ears so John Wayne said, ‘Whoa, look at the ears on that.’ I said, ‘That’s our radar.’ We called Joe ‘Radar,’ ” Hoyle said, saying he had asked Wayne if they could get their picture with him.
“I thought about going into the special effects program and the Korean Campaign came up and killed that for awhile,” he said.
Now retired, Hoyle and wife, Bea, reside in Waxahachie. They have been married for 12 years.
“In 1997, we had our 50th class reunion. So I went back there to New Jersey. I walked in and she was there. We’ve known each other since we were 8 and 10 years old. We were both widowed and so we met and I thought she was still in Jersey but come to find out she was in Turlock, Calif., and I was in the Santa Barbara area. So that changed things,” he said. “I went up on weekends to visit her and I’d stay in motels because she is a born again Christian and I am too, so there was no hanky-panky. We dated for a year and decided to get married.”
They went back to their hometown of Kearny, N.J., and had the mayor marry them in the town hall.
Searching for peace
By Rebecca Hertz
In a secluded middle-class neighborhood, a graying bearded gentleman stands in the open doorway of the garage, staring out into the constant rain. The faraway look in his eyes tells of the past – a past he cannot suppress or reconcile that leaves him empty in the present. He speaks softly but clearly, continually running his fingers through his beard and shifting his gaze to an unseen point past the roofs and treetops to the horizon of a foreign land. But for him, home is as foreign as the desert dunes of Iraq.
He is a sensitive man. His eyes tear and voice cracks when he speaks of his wife and the dogs he considers his beloved children rather than pets. And Maggie, the companion he has bonded with – she is more than a dog – she is the force that inspires him to take the next breath and the next, when he can find no other reason. Recently, Maggie ran away when she became frightened at the groomers. The loss of Maggie and uncertainty of whether or not she would be returned safely has exacerbated an already unmanageable stress level for this military retiree.
Three-year-old Maggie was rescued as a puppy along a busy highway in Florida before Brian was stationed in Texas. She is a mix of terrier, schnauzer and brindled boxer. Brian said she’s probably got some pit-bull in her, but “because of the way some people react to pits,” he doesn’t like to mention that. She is a 70-pound, brown, black and white, scruffy mutt with eyes that melt his heart. She has wiry-textured hair around her neck and head and soft wavy fur along her back.
Maggie stays close to Brian’s side. He said she knows when he’s having a bad day and sits beside his chair or follows him out to the cluttered garage to smoke and be alone with his thoughts. Thoughts he says no one can understand.
“She stays right with me. She might bark if someone goes by, but she doesn’t leave the yard,” he said.
Brian served in the Army for “25 years, six months and 14 days.” He served one tour of duty in Iraq in 2004, which changed his life literally beyond recognition.
“Things make more sense in war than it does when you come home,” he said. “Things make no sense back here anymore.”
He said all he thought about in Iraq was surviving and all he thinks of at home is dying.
His wife, Yvonne, said the man she put on the plane (to Iraq) is not the same man who came back to her.
“When he came back, he'd look around our house like he had never been here before. I thought he was just re-adjusting, but within about six weeks, I really noticed a difference,” she said. “They say you aren't supposed to talk about it – we are trained not to talk about it. A spouse isn't supposed to be asking questions and they are told not to tell us anything.”
Yvonne never knew Brian had been in combat. She only found out last February, almost six years since his return. She happened to overhear him talking about it. She had no idea what he had experienced.
“I think they need to talk about it – I don't care how bad it is. It is better than keeping it inside and having nightmares about it,” she said. “He has hit me really bad in his sleep and he was never aware that he hit me.”
Yvonne said the nightmares are an every night occurrence and the medications for depression and pain don’t help; but if he has a drink, he sleeps more soundly and the dreams don’t seem as bad. He doesn't talk much and she says he just doesn't seem to care about anything.
“I think it is the drugs, I really do. They aren't helping him, they are just making things worse,” she said, wiping away the tears. “I just want Brian back.”
The emotion runs heavy between them as they both struggle to hide the tears and regain their composure. Brian stands, pulling at his beard and with an apologetic tone, says he is going inside to make a drink.
“Sometimes I think I should leave, he wouldn’t know the difference anyway,” confides Yvonne. “But I can’t, I love him too much. I don’t know what to do anymore.”
After being stationed in Florida, an opportunity came along for Brian to relocate to Texas. Yvonne was already living in Dallas and most of her family is in the state so she was pleased with the change. Brian said his family is spread out all over the country. He said they had been moving around since his father died when he was 12 years old.
“I got in the Army because I was a bad kid. I got lucky - the judge gave me an opportunity,” he said. “I stayed in most of my life and I just couldn't take it anymore. ”
He said that since he as returned home the stress is almost too much to bear.
“My problem is I tend to blow up. I got lucky again when I picked up an officer and threw him across the room and they covered it up for me,” he said. “Now I am under psychiatric care and the VA is giving me the run around.”
While he was still on active duty, he was sent to Temple VA for evaluation. He said before a soldier retires, the claim is rushed through the system so once they retire, they actually have their VA claim and should know what the disability rating will be. But because he is now in a different region, the medication he has taken for several years is no longer accessible through the system.
“Well of course I am not on active duty anymore, I am retired. I went to VA and they want to give me this (medication),” he said. “I take this, and it don't do shit for me. My anger level is so high.”
Brian said that when he went to Dallas VA he was on four medications and he left carrying a grocery bag full of pills, ten different medications including the most recent prescription for traumatic brain injury and to help with his nightmares.
“Not one of those pills is the same as what I was taking. They don't understand it is my body that has to go through moves to adjust (to the changes),” he said. “Some are for pain but they don't do nothing for me. When I was on active duty they gave me pain medicine that took away the pain. Now they give me inflammation meds, which I am sure help with inflammation, but it does nothing for the pain. So I tend to drink.”
Yvonne said the doctors didn't explain why they were prescribing the different medications. She said it is a waste of money and she wishes they could just go to a private doctor.
“If he doesn't go through the system, he won't get his disability the way he should. I don't even think he should be working – but he lives through, he is a provider. He always has been.”
They both feel he was better off with the medications he was on before – but because it is not available in the region, there is nothing they can do.
“I just want people to know these soldiers are not being taken care of,” Yvonne said.
Brian said he didn't have health issues before going to Iraq. His current disability is 10 percent for traumatic brain injury and 30 percent for PTSD. He is appealing the decision.
He looks away and drifts back to Iraq.
“We had a 122-mm rocket come in right next to us – I mean I had mortars dropped on me. We were coming out of the mess hall and were hit with mortars,” he said.
His wife and sister started mailing him canned chicken and salmon so he could cook in his room. Even there he had his window blown in.
“I was talking to her (Yvonne) on the phone...it was my day off to do laundry and clean up and just not work – but you always work,” he said. “I had to get off the phone because we were attacked – the 50-cals opened up and I didn't want her to hear all that. I just told her 'Hon I have to get the laundry off the line.'
“They (the enemy) tried to get in the green zone and they blew up a tank right out front – that was the attack. And it was everyday. I convoyed twice a week at a minimum and we would get hit on convoys. I saw people sitting in their trucks, on fire – burnt to a crisp,” he said choking on his words. “What do you do? You keep driving.”
He tearfully recounted seeing people “with their heads blown off” and witnessing an 18-year-old girl “lose her head.” He strokes his beard with trembling hands.
“They used dead animals on the road and they put bombs in them. Today I see a trash bag in the road I try to avoid it,” he said, overcome with emotion, his words barely audible.
Yvonne, hearing this recount for the first time, stands a few feet away leaning on a blanket covered pool table, silent, as tears stream down her cheeks.
“Then down in Kuwait, they cussed us out. 'Why are you sending us these trucks all blown up?'” he said.
“’Well, they weren't blown up when we loaded them. We go hit. We are in a combat zone here buddy – I don't know about you.’ I mean the tires were flat. ‘Do you think we drove them up here like that – with shrapnel through the truck?'”
As he speaks, his posture changes, he slumps down with rounded shoulders, hands clasped between his knees. Then his gaze drifts away and the yellow Harley Davidson across the room catches his eye. His face softens as the expression changes from desperation and defeat to compassion. He said in Iraq he had a purpose; here he is lost. As difficult and stressful as the experience was, Brian says he would go back in a “heartbeat.”
“These are good people. They just want to raise a family and support them,” he said. “I think it is a war worth fighting all the way to the end – it's just hard.”
There are many other countries involved in the war. Most of the suicide bombers are not even from Iraq - most of them turned out to be Syrians, Jordanians, Iranians, he said.
“I have been trying to back since the day I came home,” he said. “I tried but KBR turned me down – I would help these people. Just get them electricity, get them what they need – security, safety. These people are good.”
Overwhelmed, he tries to regain his composure and make sense of life. He stands, looking blankly around the garage and again retreats to the kitchen for a refill.
Brian spent his youth working in the steel mills of New Jersey and Maryland. He was a welder before he joined the army and even as a soldier continued to pick up extra work.
“I would take leave from the army and pick up extra work there. I have been working full time since I was 16 years old,” he said. “When I was 16, I quit school, got my GED and I went to work. I have been working ever since – that's what you do in life.”
Brian bounces from topic to topic, often changing in mid-sentence, but he always comes back to Maggie, the beloved canine that he says keeps him grounded.
“I don’t have children, our animals are our children,” he said. “I just want my baby girl back.”
When Maggie disappeared, Brian obviously upset by the loss of his companion, drove to the grooming establishment to confront the attendant who the couple says frightened Maggie when he tried to take her. Yvonne said the dog appeared frightened of the male attendant and pulled back. He jerked the leash trying to pull her down when she slipped out of her collar and bolted out the door with the man chasing her and disappeared.
“I lost my temper over there. He tried to tell me my wife lost control of the dog and I lost my temper and the cops came looking for me,” he said. “I wasn’t hiding from them, I was just looking for Maggie.”
Although he verbally threatened the attendant, he never got out of his car. Brian was charged with assault by threat and will have to appear in court on the misdemeanor charge. He says he doesn’t care what they do to him – he just wants Maggie back.
“If I had gotten out of the car I would have killed him,” he said. “In hindsight I don't think I would have changed anything. I mean that's my kid (referring to Maggie). My animals are all I've got for my sanity. They keep me breathing. They make me laugh. You don't know the thoughts I've had. These dogs keep me alive.”
Weeks passed since Maggie’s disappearance with only occasional sightings by residents and animal control officers. Yvonne spent her days searching and Brian took over after he got off work in the evenings. They followed up every lead combing the town and outlying areas hoping for a glimpse of the elusive canine. On more than one occasion they received a tip in the wee hours of the morning only rush out and return empty handed.
“She is timid around people, but she gets along with other animals,” Brian said. “I guess she’s like me - she gets along better with animals than people.”
Yvonne spotted her once near the location where she disappeared, and was close enough to call to her, but Maggie ran away. They decided the only option would be to trap her.
“The longer she stays out, the more frightened she will become,” said an animal control officer.
The trap was set. Yvonne placed Maggie’s favorite red pillow in the cage along with her toy and food. Animal control officers left a trail of food leading into the cage to attract her. Maggie managed to get her pillow without tripping the cage and ate the food leading in. They stopped leaving the trail of food and placed it only inside the cage with her favorite toy filled with peanut butter. It must have been too much to resist, because Sunday morning, when Yvonne checked the cage at dawn, there was Maggie.
Brian said at about 5 a.m. that morning, Yvonne got up and said she had to go check the cage – she said she had a feeling about it. Brian convinced her to wait until daylight. As soon as the sun crested the horizon, Yvonne was up, dressed, and out the door.
“I guess it was mother’s intuition,” Brian said.
It was a tearful reunion. But they were joyful, grateful tears running down smiling faces as Maggie re-acclimated to her home and surroundings. Once again at Brian’s side, watching over him, protecting him from the demons, easing his fears and calming his agitation.
Fresh from her bath to wash away the grime of three weeks of scavenging in the woods and along the roadways, the dripping dog enters the garage, barking at everything. The garage door is closed for now, until she settles in. Sniffing and barking, she makes the rounds from the pool table to the bright yellow Harley Davidson that Brian has planned to ride today in the sunny weather but now says he only wants to stay with Maggie. He said that after being out on her own, he feared her personality might have changed. But that isn’t the case, as she has immediately resumed her role as nurturer to the other three dogs. She follows Yvonne around “helping” with her chores and rediscovering her home, but always returning to check on Brian, lingering at his side and gazing into his face - sharing a language known only to the two of them.
He said that after three weeks, Maggie’s return is truly a miracle.
“I looked up to the good Lord to bring my baby home,” he said. “I have Maggie home.”
Copyright (c) 2010 Rebecca Hertz
Texas sanctuary offers homes to hundreds of animals
By Rebecca Hertz / Associated Press
Everyone has something to say.
There's a whole lot of snorting and squealing and barking going on as the animals patter around the farmyard making sure no one else has something they don't, and generally making sure they aren't missing anything.
AtlastaHome is a no-kill, non-breeding animal sanctuary located near Ennis, which is home to hundreds of animals. The facility primarily focuses on pigs but also serves as home to dogs, horses, ponies, goats, ducks, chickens and a few peacocks. Chris Hinterman and her husband Robert operate the 501(c)3 sanctuary pretty much on their own and depend on donations, boarding fees and their own pocketbooks to make ends meet.
"I have volunteers that come every once in awhile. People come out and think it's cool, but not an everyday thing. But this is me 24/7," she said. "We do some fundraising but I can't do fundraising and take care of these guys too. We do whatever it takes to make a dollar to keep our heads up."
There are a lot of animals, in all shapes, sizes and colors. Each has his or her own distinct personality and they love to be in the middle of whatever is going on.
"People don't realize that pigs are social, they love people. They are very family-oriented.They get attached to their family — they are their herd," she said.
All animals are spayed or neutered. Everybody has a name.
"You can't do without a name. We even do birthdays here because with the pot bellies, we aren't sure quite how long they will live. My oldest one passed away at 22," she said. "We bury them here."
She said they go through 10 tons of food each month for the pigs and that doesn't include the dog food or horse feed. There are 52 dogs at the facility.
Morning feeding time is a carefully choreographed routine, which takes a couple of hours. Hinterman starts with the larger feral pigs and bags full of day-old bread.
As soon as the dogs are herded into the fence near the house, the pigs get vocal — they know what's coming.
"I work at a bakery so I bring home all the day-old and stale bread. It's going to be a rush (of pigs)," she said as she opened the gate.
Like runners at the starting line, the pigs vie for the best position. In one mass effort they push through the open gate running as fast as they can. Trotting along the bread trail, they snatch up crusty chunks with every step. Then she hoists a bag of pellets and pours the feed along the path.
The ocean of large pigs, sprinkled with a couple of goats, quiet down as they enjoy their morning meal.
"The goats have a way of just getting in there. I have them eat out here with the pigs because they are pretty ornery," she said.
The next stop is through the gate into the barn, which is brimming with pot bellied pigs. They aren't as vocal as the ferals, but they have plenty to say as Chris again hoists up a bag of feed and the squawking and squealing critters patter their way out the back door to a fenced yard. Watching the crowd from behind, they look like a herd of tiny gray rhinos.
"My main thing is keeping them watered. In hot weather I am constantly watering all day long. I've constantly got to give them water holes — pigs don't sweat so the only way they can keep cool is by getting in the water," she said. "Piggies are very clean animals. They are not filthy."
In addition to the regular feeding, watering and cleaning up, tusks sometimes need to be trimmed, hooves trimmed, quarterly worming, shots and, of course, spaying or neutering of new arrivals.
"A lot of them keep up their own maintenance. They have about 40 acres they can go to. But they don't go far, they might miss something. They do graze and keep their feet pretty well done, so it's mostly just worming," Hinterman said.
She said they don't have disease problems.
"I got all the ferals when they were tiny. We are not a breeding facility. This is strictly a sanctuary — just a place for them to go," she said. "It is amazing there is a need for my rescue — for these guys to need a place to go."
When asked about reported feral attacks, Hinterman said that possibly the animal had been cornered or threatened.
"Feral pigs don't have good eyesight. They can only see forward and have no peripheral vision. They get startled pretty easily and on their own, they are going to stand and challenge," she said. "These are wild animals and their nature is to survive. They are more apt to run from you than at you."
Manning is a very large spotted feral pig that came from Mansfield last year and was going to be put down. But Manning, Hinterman said, had done a very good thing. He belonged to some people in the area, but he was going around in the neighborhood stealing dog food and horse food, whatever he could find. People got upset and animal control was called to try and catch the pig.
"Well, you're not going to catch a feral," she said, saying Manning led the officers back to where he lived. "There were dogs that were tied and tethered to trees that were starving to death. And there were some horses and other animals. So he was a hero, yet they still wanted to put him down after it was all over with. I said absolutely not, that I would take him. He's a sweetheart, he really is."
She said she has gotten most of the feral pigs during deer season.
"They shoot the mom and there is a little teeny tiny one there and the guys can't bring themselves to — you know. So they bring them here," she said. "Mostly what happens is guys hunt or trap them and take them to the slaughterhouse and they are eaten. They are hunted 365 days a year."
She said she also gets them from zoos. Pigs have come from as far away as Amarillo, Lampasas, Waco and Houston.
"I am the only one that is state-certified and the only one with as many as I have — as a sanctuary. They are just here to live out the rest of their lives," she said.
Her attempts to get grand funding for the pot bellies have been unsuccessful because they are considered "useless" animals. She is trying to focus her grant applications on the feral pigs because there is "such a need for a place for the ferals to go."
"I am at my capacity at 300 with a waiting list. When somebody dies, it opens up a space for somebody else. I am always open to the ferals because there is no other place for them to go," she said. "If someone wants to give me a pot bellied pig, I ask for $300 and whatever comes with the pig — like an igloo or that type of thing."
Hinterman said she needs donations and volunteers to help. They are at full capacity with a waiting list.
"I'll take anything — igloos, blankets, hay, hoses, rakes and shovels — anything that a farm would need," she said.
The Hintermans also work with kids that come through the Ellis County juvenile system who need to complete community service. The 8- to 18-year-olds come out and work with the animals at the facility. She said they don't treat them like children, but like people and give them responsibilities with consequences. They may start with a bad attitude but by the time they leave that changes.
"A lot of these kids have problems and not a lot of stability in their lives. These guys (the animals) have been through hell and back themselves. Kids and animals work well together," she said. "I've had kids who came out and did their 12 hours or whatever and then return to volunteer in their free time."
Breaking free from the past
By Rebecca Hertz
Published Killeen Daily Herald
Parked at the gas station across from the women's prison in Gatesville, the large white guard tower is barely visible behind a row of mature trees. A smaller tower sits diagonally across the yard. High chain-link fences encircle the perimeter with tumbleweed like razor wire resting on top. Two white-clad women walk together in the distance as the sun crests the horizon and the morning light spills over the unit. The scene speaks more of loneliness than foreboding.
The prison, located three miles north of the town of Gatesville was established in 1980 and contains multiple units with the capacity to house more than 5,000 women offenders. The complex covers 1,317 acres, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) Web site.
Many of the offenders are serving time for substance related felonies. In 2003, TDCJ funding was cut and in addition to staffing reductions, programs for substance abuse were discontinued. With the exception of a few books allowed to remain in the libraries for information about Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), all materials were ordered removed or destroyed. In-house meetings ceased.
Making do without funds
"Because of the economy, because of financial reasons, because of things beyond their control they had to pull that. Now their (the inmates) only resource is us," NA volunteer M. said. "To get a message about recovery is us, and if we don't take the responsibility and do it, they won't get it."
In 1997, Randie Ellis, started a program to take NA volunteers to the facilities to bring meetings to the inmates who wished to attend even before the budget cuts. It is an opportunity to attend meetings, share experiences and learn how they can overcome their addictions. The women who volunteer are recovering addicts themselves, some of whom were incarcerated in the very units they visit bringing hope and support in an effort to give back in the way that helped them to turn their own lives around.
"We just want them to see us as an example that we've been where you've been. We've done the drugs you did. We've probably did the crimes you did just not all of us got caught doing them," R. said. "… We are doing this and this has changed our life and helped us find a way to cope and live a better life. We hope that inspires them to do the same."
One recent Saturday, 12 North Texas women brought meetings to seven units at the prison. It is an arduous process to prepare for the visits. Ellis must first gather enough volunteers to cover the meetings. Information, including driver's license and social security numbers of the special volunteers must be submitted in advance as well as a detailed schedule of the time and location of each meeting. Approved volunteers have submitted applications, received approval and attended a 3 to 4 hour orientation within the system. She follows up the Tuesday before the trip to confirm that volunteers have been approved and all information has been received. Strict guidelines as to what volunteers may wear must be followed. Volunteers are mindful of following appropriate procedures and are respectful to prison personnel. Above all, they must be flexible since things don't always go as planned.
When entering the unit, visitors are allowed to carry only a driver's license and car keys. No purses, cell phones or cash are allowed. After signing in and having ID's checked, depending on the unit, they may be "wanded" with portable metal detectors and patted down. Cars may be searched. Visitors are accompanied by a guard at all times moving through the unit, and a guard may or may not be present throughout the meeting, which was the case in the maximum security unit that housed death row inmates.
'We do this to stay alive'
Women who secure a pass to come to the meeting enter the room silently, in single file wearing white pants, dingy white knit shirts and white shoes. Once inside, the mood lifts and greetings are exchanged. They represent all ages and ethnic backgrounds, but in the meeting everyone is equal, volunteers and inmates alike.
Every story is a little different, but they are joined together by the common thread of addiction. The wrong path, bad choices and the hope for a better life are common themes. The level of commitment to recovery varies, but there has to be a first step.
Ellis said if you don't get a god and clean your house by doing a self inventory to find out what drove you to all this, nothing will change.
"We don't do this to get good," M. said. "We do this to stay alive."
But all the effort and meetings mean little if they go back to the same environment there were in after their release. Ellis makes a point of encouraging transitional housing where they can be in a safe place with help and support to work their program and build a future.
"It's cool when you see them outside at meetings and end up sponsoring them," R. said. "We see them get married, have babies and get their lives together. It takes dedication and work and you have to keep doing it."
NA accepts no outside contributions. There is no funding for the project and the volunteers come on their own time and pay for their own expenses.
Ellis said literature for use in the meetings is donated by the region, but the volunteers are not supposed to leave it there for the inmates.
When there were counselors in the units, they would distribute the materials or use them for the classes.
"We are not here to crusade or recruit; we are just an example," R. said. "But while we are here, we are clean another day by giving back. We take home barrels full of gratitude and hope and reinforcement."
The organization's policy is that no members be identified due to the anonymity of the program. Volunteers choose to participate in service to give back to others, which helps them to continue working the steps and maintain sobriety.
"It gives my past worth," M. said. "I don't regret the past because now it is being used to help somebody else."
Copyright (c) 2009 Killeen Daily Herald